Chinese Tech Companies Reportedly Testing New Tool to Circumvent Apple's App Tracking Transparency Rules

Apple plans to begin enforcing its App Tracking Transparency changes following the release of iOS 14.5, and all apps that access an iPhone's ad identifier or IDFA will need to ask a user's permission before tracking is allowed.

nba tracking prompt
According to a new report by the Financial Times, however, the state-backed China Advertising Association (CAA) is testing a tool that could be used to bypass the new Apple privacy rules and allow companies to continue tracking users without their consent.

The new method of tracking users is called CAID, which is said to be undergoing testing by tech companies and advertisers in China. According to the report, TikTok owner ByteDance has already provided its developers with an 11-page guide suggesting that advertisers "use the CAID as a substitute if the user's IDFA is unavailable."

However, the CAA told FT that the tool "does not stand in opposition to Apple's privacy policy" and that the association "is currently actively communicating with Apple," while the CAID solution has not yet been formally implemented.

Apple declined to directly comment on the potential use of CAID to get around its new App Tracking Transparency rules, but told the newspaper that it wouldn't grant any exceptions.

"The App Store terms and guidelines apply equally to all developers around the world, including Apple," the company told FT. "We believe strongly that users should be asked for their permission before being tracked. Apps that are found to disregard the user’s choice will be rejected."

However, two people briefed on the issue told the newspaper that Apple is aware of the tool and seems to have so far turned a blind eye to its use.

Apple is believed to have the capacity to detect which apps use the CAID tool and could block them from its App Store in China, if it wanted to. But such a response could ignite a major confrontation if CAID receives the support of China's technology companies as well as its government agencies.

Three people with knowledge of briefings between Apple and developers also said the Cupertino, California-based company would be wary of taking strong action, despite a clear violation of its stated rules, if CAID has the support of China's tech giants as well as its government agencies.

Rich Bishop, chief executive of AppInChina, a leading publisher of international software in China, suggested that Apple might "make an exception for China" because tech companies and the government are "so closely aligned."

It still remains unclear how the CAID system works, but Beijing-based data privacy company Digital Union believes that the system has been designed with Apple's rules in mind because its tracking methods may not uniquely identify users. "This is the room that the industry has left to explore," the company's co-founder Yang Cong'an told FT, suggesting the grey area was intentional.

CAID is reportedly scheduled to be publicly released as soon as this week, and although the system is intended to be used by local app developers in China, at least one French gaming group is said to have been encouraged to apply to use it and several foreign advertising companies have already applied on behalf of their Chinese divisions.

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Top Rated Comments

Razorpit Avatar
43 months ago
China circumventing privacy rights? Color me shocked.
Score: 28 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Rob_2811 Avatar
43 months ago
Will Tim Cook condemn this like he does Facebook?
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
n0va Avatar
43 months ago
definitely did not expect this. the chinese communist party never fail to surprise me
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
icanhazapple Avatar
43 months ago
This issue is not exclusive to Apple, with respect standing up to China. There are a number of tech companies that could take a similar position, but they have chosen not to.

But only Apple has a $2 trillion market cap/has the cash reserves to lead the charge on this privacy issue. We look to Apple to be better, and they've deferred on standing up to China.

Remember that Apple's dedication to human rights ends where it potentially precludes Apple from taking action on a privacy issue that would upset China to the extent they would restrict the sale of iPhones.

Same is true with encryption of iCloud backups.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
LeadingHeat Avatar
43 months ago
*Facebook and Google engineers furiously writing down notes*
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Rob_2811 Avatar
43 months ago

Probably. Why wouldn't he?
He won't get invited to the next audience with the CCP
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)